One of my clients, Rob, described the most recent public speaking experience he’d had before he met me:

“Going in to the meeting, my manager asked if I would wrap up the session with a few words at the end, to sum up our discussion points. My stomach dropped, and I instantly felt sick. I couldn’t listen to anything being discussed during the hour-long meeting, because all I could think about was how terrified I was, and I spent the whole hour working myself up in to a frenzy. I did it, but I did it badly, and I knew then that I would never be asked to do it again”.

Rob has hit the nail on the head. His fear of public speaking was clear to see; it affected his performance and, until he did something about it, it was affecting his career, too.

So, what can we do about the paralysis of stagefright?

The first thing to understand is that these nerves are completely normal. It’s the primitive fight or flight response kicking in. Okay, so we’re not having to decide whether to fight or flee from the marauding woolly mammoth, but we are still having a physiological response to fear. We are putting ourselves in front of our colleagues, our peers, and we feel judged. Which means we feel vulnerable…which means we feel scared.

Our body’s response to this is to release adrenaline; brilliant if you need to fight, or to run away, but not so great if you need to calmly communicate your ideas to a roomful of people!

You know the feeling: your heart rate picks up, your breathing speed increases, you’re pretty certain that everyone in the room can hear your pulse…

Here’s what we can do about these nerves…

  1. Let’s talk about that breathing. Your breath is the beginning and end of everything. It’s something we can control, so let’s use that. Not only will deep, diaphragmatic breathing help to calm you, it’ll also support your voice, stop it quavering, and carry it to the back of the room.

Tip: deep breathing isn’t something we tend to do without thinking about it, so practice. Take time to learn to breathe deeply, and reap the benefits when you next come to give a presentation.

  1. World Champion Golfer, Jack Nicklaus has said: “I never hit a shot, not even in practice, without having a very sharp in-focus picture of it in my head”. Visualisation is a well-used strategy for improving performance, employed by athletes and performers alike. Here’s the deal: when you imagine something vividly and with emotion, your brain chemistry changes as though the experience was real, and your mind records it as a real memory. If you can vividly imagine delivering your presentation, your mind will record it as a real memory; the situation will become something known, something you’ve “already experienced”, thus diminishing your fears.

Tip: take time to find a quiet space and visualise the sights, sounds, smells and feelings of your presentation. You’ll need to practice so you can drill down in to the detail, but it’ll be worth giving this the time you need: it works!  

  1. Practice. Practice. Practice. If you don’t feel confident that you know your stuff, of course you’re going to be nervous. You need to know your talk inside out and back to front, so that you cannot be thrown by anything. This doesn’t mean you won’t be flexible enough to adapt to the conditions on the day, rather that you will be so confident in what you’re saying that you can concentrate on how you’re saying it.

Tip: make sure you practice out loud, preferably with an audience. Don’t ever let your presentation itself be the first time you’ve said these words out loud! 

  1. Your audience is on your side! Make sure you arrive in enough time to meet your audience and, in doing so, humanise them! Remember, your speech is all about your audience, not you. By shaking hands and having a little chat with them, you’ll shift the focus back to them, whilst at the same time reminding yourself that they’re just people!

Tip: we’ve all heard the one about picturing your audience naked. I’m not sure that’s always that appropriate (!), but I do firmly believe in imagining that the room is full of your friends, perhaps at a party, who stop their conversations to listen to you. Your friends want to hear what you’ve got to say; they love you, they enjoy you….put them “in the room” and see how much more connected you feel to your audience.

  1. Give up trying to be perfect and know that it is OK to make mistakes. Be natural; be yourself. Try to stop building up your talk as a “presentation”, and think of it more as a “conversation”. At the end of the day, we’re all human: we’re all just people. So, try to relax, laugh it off if something doesn’t go quite right, and stop being so hard on yourself.

Get in touch to learn more about how I can help you conquer your fear of public speaking.